The Maldives police launched Monday an investigation into hate speech and death threats after a public chat channel started branding individuals as apostates.
The ‘Murtad Watch’ (Apostate Watch) on Telegram identified and posted information about people who spoke out against an island magistrate court sentencing a woman to death by stoning earlier this week.
“We have observed a string of hate speech and threats ensuing from recent conversations on some social media platforms,” police tweeted. “While we investigate these, we urge both sides of the conversation to refrain from making derogatory remarks, especially threats to persons”.
In April 2017, liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed was killed by a radicalised group of young men who believed he was guilty of blasphemy and insulting Islam, according to police.
At the time, Yameen’s family questioned the ability of the police to conduct a credible investigation due to the failure to convict suspects in the abduction of journalist Ahmed Rilwan and the near-fatal attack on blogger Hilath Rasheed.
Two months before Rilwan went missing in August 2014, a vigilante mob abducted and interrogated several young men in a push to identify online activists advocating secularism or professing atheism.
The ‘Apostate Watch’ channel was created in November but became active on Monday. It had 121 subscribers as of Tuesday evening.
With a bullseye as its icon, the channel has posted screenshots of tweets criticising the death sentence along with names and photos of individuals and organisations deemed “apostates” and “enemies of Islam.”
“The ruling upon such a person is the same ruling as upon any apostate: their blood wealth and honour are Halal, they are not to be greeted, they are not to be prayed behind or upon, their marriages are dissolved, they cannot inherit from or be inherited by a Muslim and they cannot be buried with the Muslims. A legitimate Islamic authority must also apply the Hadd upon such people,” reads a message posted on the channel.
“What follows is some of those who today made their apostasy from Islam clear. We declare them as Murtadeen and every Muslim must do likewise as the issue of attacking the Shariah is a clear matter which no Muslim can be ignorant of.”
Screenshots and photos were followed with Quranic verses and hadith (teachings of the Prophet) referring to “disbelievers” and people who “mock Islam.”
After the police tweet, the group vowed to return and launch new Twitter and Facebook accounts if it was deleted.
“Brothers and sisters, many of the Munafiqeen [hypocrites] are calling to report this channel so we urge you all to save these posts and share them on other platforms,” it said.
Dear @PoliceMv I believe you refer to a Telegram channel “Murtad Watch Mv”. It’s not a conversation. It’s an organised group targeting individuals and organisations. It is what I believe to be terrorism. Who do you mean by “both sides”? The group is instructing their own members. https://t.co/t0eiabPIC0
— Shahindha Ismail 🎈 (@HindhaIsmail) January 8, 2019
Last July In Syria, Maldivians fighting for Nusra front beheaded Mohamed "Zubba" Zubair, an ISIS fighter, whom they declared as an apostate. Identifying people as apostates is dangerous and needs to be stopped. https://t.co/A2zBfhqLQM
— hassan mohamed (@rabarumaa) January 8, 2019
Here is @PoliceMv attempting to come off as 'moderate' when looking into a telegram group issuing death threats & labelling people apostates. There aren't 2 sides making threats. There's those issuing threats & making targets out of people. The rest of us are frustrated & angry. https://t.co/oiRwgnxyJC
— Sara Naseem 🎈 (@sara_naseem) January 7, 2019
Not perfect, but a welcome intervention by Maldives Police to stem an uptick in advocacy of religious hatred. Recommend Rabat Plan of Action https://t.co/r7ObeSYp1a
— Ahmed Shaheed (@ahmedshaheed) January 7, 2019
You should first investigate and arrest those who discriminate Islam, Your first responsibility is our Dheen, and next safety of our ppl. It is true using Social Media, in name of Maldivian atheists, they have been posting such hatred towards our dheen. Investigate this.
— FEANARO TC KOKKO ®️ (@tckokko) January 7, 2019